An exclusive interview with Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad
Interviewer: Parwiz Kawa 8AM Daily – Kabul | Translated by: A. Naveed Noormal
Q: Diplomatic institution of Afghanistan has always been seen as an institution for exile and a privilege to Afghan politicians, and has rarely been recognized as a body to reflect and implement foreign policy of Afghanistan. What do you think of the Foreign Policy Institution of Afghanistan?
Jawad: Fortunately, in the last two decades the Foreign Policy Institution of Afghanistan has significantly changed and has improved fairly well, and has also trained and presented a good number of intelligent and effective diplomats. Compare to other regional countries diplomats, in most regional and international diplomatic meetings, I feel proud of our professional and skilful young diplomats. Their skills, honesty and qualities should be utilized further.
The vile of exile was an issue during the 1970’s and no longer exists. However, in terms of political appointees and appointment based on political weight and economical status, is frankly a common practice, especially at ambassadorial level in key capitals. For example, my friend, the current Ambassador of the United States to the United Kingdom hails from a wealthy family who has made a significant contribution to the US Presidential campaign. That said, we should be mindful that the real professional work is carried out by career diplomats, and Ambassadors are assigned to ensure highest level contacts and relations. Diplomats who are the backbones of the embassies, should not be appointed based on their ideological, tribal, financial or other connections, neither in Afghanistan nor in any other country.
In the past, in cases where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan has been trusted to lead and implement foreign policy, Afghan diplomats have been fully successful pursuing the tasks assigned to them. For example, successful management of our bilateral relations with Iran in the past two decades, given our close strategic partnership with the United States is one of the important achievements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. However, as foreign resources became the foundation of the political power, economic wealth and political prestige in the past two decades, our statemen wanted to manage those relations directly; instead of delegating it to diplomats.
Q: With this optimism about the Foreign Policy Institution of the country, how do you see the recent reforms agenda at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? There are concerns and criticism over these reforms.
Jawad: Undoubtedly, there is a prerequisite for reform at the Foreign Policy Institution in Afghanistan. Regrettably, the reform process in the past couple of years have been slow and sometimes in complete standstill. However, sudden shock and swift jolt causes defiance and mayhem. It is better that these reform agendas are carried out with vigilance and serenity and in consultation and synchronisation with professional and experienced diplomatic cadres of this institution.
Q: You have the experience of working in important countries including Ambassador to the United States, and now serving as an Ambassador to the United Kingdom. According to you, what can make Afghanistan’s relationship with the world’s leading powers stronger?
Jawad: This is a million-dollar question and I hope that your column has enough space and your audience enough patience for the answer.
I will not speak about the macro and strategic priorities of our foreign policy as these have been addressed frequently. However, I emphasise that unless our tactics and policies are frequently adjusted with the constantly shifting and extraordinary occurrences in our globalised world, and realigned with the realities of long-term and medium-term urgencies of the regional policies, they will remain inconsequential.
In the current extraordinary situation, our foreign policy priorities better be based on two pillars. The first pillar is to establish regional consensus to achieve support for an Afghan led and just peace process and proximate ceasefire, to jointly establish realistic principles for execution and implementation of a peace agreement, and thereby achieve dignified peace deal that guarantees fundamental human rights of our citizens and the safeguard our democratic achievements.
The second pillar is maintaining and further strengthening our close cooperation with our international partners to preserving the current level of sustainable assistance to promote sustainable economic development and political support for the government of Afghanistan.
Based on these two pillars, the structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan and other Foreign Policy Institutions in Afghanistan could be reinvented, deliberating the following actions:
- Empowering and entrusting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to formulate Afghanistan’s international relations strategic priorities, and to implement the tactical aspects of peace process and regional economic development cooperation and reintegration.
- Providing specialized training programs for a group of diplomats, both women and men, to build and enhance their expert skills to manage the peace process; and to establish relations with expert global and regional Think Tanks, international universities and research centres dedicated to peace-building, peace-making, reconciliation and reintegration processes.
- Based on the Vienna Convention, regulate how foreign missions and embassies based in Kabul access government and high-level dignitaries and security officials; and highlight the role of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in facilitation of these contacts.
- Appointing skilled Ambassadors and diplomats who are familiar with world politics and our culture, history and national languages to serve in our key missions across the region, with our allies, and in NATO member states.
- Entrusting, empowering and authorizing Ambassadors and high-level diplomats to establish close working relations with, and have a noticeable presence in the local media channels of the country of their missions. This enables them to be a convincing voice for the people of Afghanistan on issues of national significance, such as the peace process and relations with our neighbours. Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, when we remain silent and “off the air”, the noise of our opponent will occupy the spot. Plausibly, main international media outlets, such as CNN or BBC World should be fed by our most senior government officials and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan in Kabul; what I am talking about is the local media outlets in foreign countries and capitals.
- Effective use of significant number of friends of Afghanistan who have previously served in Afghanistan on military, diplomatic or humanitarian missions to influence think tanks and political institutions in Europe, USA, and even India and Russia.
Q: The public understanding about the Foreign Policy of the United Kingdom with regard to Afghanistan is that it’s too Pakistan-centric. What is your take on and experience of the United Kingdom as an international partner and supporter of Afghanistan?
Jawad: Well, frankly, on one hand, we have very close political relation, significant economic and trade ties, genuine military partnership and gracious educational and cultural collaboration with the United Kingdom. This friendly partnership is based on shared security interests between Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, our region and the world. Additionally, the Afghan diaspora in the UK is a rich asset for Afghanistan. On the other hand, Pakistan is a longstanding member of the Commonwealth Nations and has deep historical, social and economic bonds with the UK. However, terrorist safe havens and training camps in Pakistan, and extremist mosques in Pakistan and the United Kingdom as well as Pakistani-British extremist citizens are shared security threat to us, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and the world.
In light of this, my responsibilities as the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the Court of Saint James is to further expand our relations and share our official stand, and that of our people, with the government, parliament, military and people of the United Kingdom. It will not be smart, nor realistic to put United Kingdom in a zero-sum game situation to choose between us and Pakistan. The historical bonds and the nature of relations between the United Kingdom and Pakistan are absolutely different from that of ours. Luckily, the United Kingdom wants, and is fully capable of, maintaining suitable relations with both countries. Hence, we cautiously and effectively utilize the UK’s leverage on Pakistan for the benefit of our interests, which is security and stability of our region.
Q: Since you mentioned about the shared security interest, do you think United Kingdom has used its leverage on Pakistan to galvanize the Afghan Peace Process?
Jawad: Indeed, the United Kingdom has been very effective in discretely facilitating the rapprochement between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In terms of peace, on one hand United Kingdom publicly supports the approach and stance of the United States, and on the other, London is seeking to moderate and change some of aspects of the US’s policies. London’s close contacts with Islamabad and Washington DC have been positive in supporting a dignified Afghan Peace process.
Q: In the past year, the issue of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has been one of the key topics of discussion in the United Kingdom, do you think that this will have an impact on Afghanistan and their support to Afghanistan?
Jawad: The largest part of our cooperation with the United Kingdom is based on the bilateral relations; Brexit will not have any major impact on our relations with the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Q: Do you see a decrease or increase in military and economic cooperation between the United Kingdom and Afghanistan in the next 4 years? Does the country plan to engage more and play a greater role in Afghanistan’s development activities, and is United Kingdom interested in maintaining their relations with Afghanistan as they are?
Jawad: In the next four years, my goal is to work to maintaining the level of support and assistance we are currently receiving and to further strengthen the friendly strategic partnership with the United Kingdom. To achieve this, our embassy’s practical approach is to seize the exceptional opportunities being created after Brexit to pursue the national interests of Afghanistan. Now that the United Kingdom adopted the policy of “Global Britain” and wants to regain stronger political presence and position outside the EU geography, the country looks at Africa and Asia as complementary geographies.
After 3 years of political stagnation, a brilliant an experienced Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is finally at the helm. He wants to restore the prestige and gravitas of London in global affairs and world politics. Having many close friends in the UK government and military who have previously served in both Kabul and Helmand, we will continue to benefit from these connections and their influences not only for the efficient management of our bilateral relations, but also for those of our neighbouring country.
Q: How difficult or easy is to represent Afghanistan in a country that has active military forces and political institutions in Afghanistan?
Jawad: Effective representation of Afghanistan in any country is a proud, but difficult job. Believe me it is difficult.
The presence of the UK’s military, intelligence, political institutions, civil and humanitarian organizations is not an impediment. in fact, they are valuable assets for us, if appropriately utilised. The relations of such institutions are better be regulated, based on the Geneva convention, with our governmental bodies, military and even parliament. Certainly, each one of these bodies can help us further augment the existing ties between our respective governments and people. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan has the ability to better regulate and coordinate this; and it is the right time to implement this.
Q: You are considered as one of few experienced, professional and skilled diplomats of Afghanistan. Now that you are almost close to the end of your career in this field, what are the biggest three lessons you would like to give to the young generation?
Jawad: Thank you for the kind words. I am far away from those affluent titles, honestly. However, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity of serve my people, and I am immensely grateful for the chance.
What to say! Contrary to what you are thought in the diplomacy courses, the first essential lesson to the colleagues and friends taking this career path is that if you want to be an effective manager and a real leader to be remembered by the people and history, stand up confidently for your principles, values, and the national interests of your country,; otherwise you will be an ordinary and forgotten good bureaucrat. You may never convince a foreign government or international institution to agree and accept your position if you do not agree with the rightfulness of such position yourself.
The second lesson, in Afghanistan and our region you do not choose to enter the field of politics and diplomacy, it usually happens accidentally, in most cases. However, exiting and leaving politics is optional and uncompelled. So, please step aside from politics and diplomacy, when you are at the pinnacle of fame and popularity. All the terrible dictators of the world were once decent leaders that failed to know or accept that it was time to step down or step aside, when their zenith was over.
The third lesson, there is no better alternative than kindness, love and collaboration with your colleagues, especially emerging and young leaders. You may be remembered, once or twice in your career for your tough and hard-hitting stance against your boss, but you will be remembered a thousand times for your perpetual smile, warmth, and good relations with your colleagues and subordinates.
Jawad: You are one of those diplomats who have an experience of engaging in one of the most complex peace processes in the world – between the government of Columbia and FARC. How practical are those experiences are in Afghanistan?
Jawad: Thank you again. Despite the fact that we Afghans think that we know everything, some of my experiences may uphold to be effective in Afghanistan. I have been an Ambassador for almost seven years to Columbia and I have had a chance to make personal friendship with President Uribe and Defence Minister Santos. I have accompanied them in some of their provincial official visits to the areas that had just been liberated from insurgents to see the effectiveness of the military operations against FARC insurgents and to talk to people about peace and ceasefire. Good old days!
The most important lessons from the peace talks with FARC, which are vital for us at this time, are the covert approach to real negotiation, the small, compact, but credible composition of the negotiating team, the role of women and victims on both sides of the conflict, and the positive impact of regional facilitator, international guarantor and careful planning for the reintegration of insurgents across all areas of society – socially, comically and politically. The verification mechanisms, working with the community and victims to forget and forgive and to accept, and insisting on the protection of fundamental rights and core principles and the democratic system. One of the biggest challenges in Colombia was maintaining the unity of opinion and position among the Colombian statesmen, women, victims, and civil society. To the extent that at one point, Secretary of Defence Santos opposed President Uribe, saying that peace was not just and that the president was too tolerant.
Inherently, war affects different parts of societies and countries in different ways. For some, on the front lines and the countryside, the silence of guns and the end to the bloodshed is peace. For others in urban centres, it is equally imperative that peace protect their fundamental rights to access information, education, civil liberties and government services. Sustainable peace is only possible when the price of sacrifice for peace is not greater than the cost of destruction of war.
Peace requires strategic patience and continued tactical elasticity. The practical lesson for me from Colombia was, ” The government lose by not winning, the insurgency win by not losing”.” The government must deliver services to survive; the insurgency must disrupt services to survive. For a lasting peace, there is no choice but to fully include the government and the defence forces in the peace and decision-making process. Scattered and uncoordinated efforts, even with good intentions, will be washed away in waves of violence.
Q: I spoke to a former FARC rebel a while ago and found that despite the agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government, the group still suffers from lack of opportunities to engage with society, which means the memories of their revolt and war still linger in their minds and this has prevented some members of the group from adapting. Now, if we one day make peace with the Taliban and other insurgents, what approach should we take to reduce the grounds for discrimination and discrimination against members of this group?
Jawad: With this profound question, you point finger at one of the most sensitive and important elements of establishing and sustaining peace. Indeed, discrimination against FARC or Taliban insurgents will diminish when, on the one hand, people enjoy the dividends of peace so much that they forget the sufferings of war and the cruelty of the enemy, and on the other, the warriors are so positively engaged in a peaceful life that they do not miss the “glory” of war. Our people have shown that they are willing to deliver their part and forget the past in the hope of a peaceful future. For the Taliban, like the FARC insurgents, we need financial resources and professional skills to implement credible economic, social and ideological reintegration programs.
Nevertheless, the problem of the Taliban’s reintegration may go beyond those posed by FARC. FARC had about 8,000 to 10,000 troops during each fighting season, but the Taliban command at least four times as many troops. Most of FARC members were young men and women who were logically more flexible. By contrast, the Taliban are very old, both ideologically and biologically. It has been forty years that they eat, sleep and shoot!
Q: Well, we all know that the world is in an exceptional situation caused by the Corona pandemic, and this crisis has affected many areas of human, political and social life. What will be the impact of the Corona pandemic on the diplomatic relations of countries, especially Afghanistan?
Jawad : Corona has changed the entire world and the world entirely. Corona’s pandemic impact is profound and lasting, not only on public health and economy, but also on the transformation of the world’s political order. On one hand, this crisis has opened the door to serious discussions across various capitals, and in various ways has called into question the nature of contemporary multilateralism. Some argue that it is better for countries to quarantine themselves within their borders and focus on their own health and wealth. Others argue that this universal health crisis confirms the interwovenness of humanity and that the better option is to improve the effectiveness of the multilateral mechanisms of cooperation. The result of these debates, be it strengthened multilateralism or populism and nationalism bear extremely vital consequence for crisis-ridden countries like ours. This will decrease the interest of able countries and charities to help remote and conflict affected areas. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to seriously consider a medium-term national strategy on how to cope with the realities of the post-Corona-world and the various scenarios of this pandemic. We may reconsider that date of the upcoming Donor Conference and Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan, planned to take place in the 4th quarter of this year.
Thank you very much for taking time for this interview.
Jawad: Best wishes! Bakhair Bashed!
Featured image is from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan
A. Naveed Noormal is a Fulbright Scholar and a Foreign Service Officer. He has served as a Senior Diplomat at the Embassy of Afghanistan in London and was Policy Lead at the Office of Deputy Foreign Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. Mr. Noormal is a reader and contributor on foreign and public policy, regional cooperation, international relations, conflict management and negotiation as well as peace process. He holds a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution from the US, an MBA from the United Kingdom and a degree of Law from India. He is a fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Asia Foundation Development Program.